CHAPTER XII  THE LAKE OF AZURE

    On either side lay a great sweep of waving blue water. Calm, almost as a lake, sapphire here, and here with the tints of the aquamarine. Water so clear that fathoms away below you could see the branching coral, the schools of passing fish, and the shadows of the fish upon the spaces of sand.

    Before them the clear water washed the sands of a white beach, the cocoa-palms waved and whispered in the breeze; and as the oarsman lay on his oars to look a flock of bluebirds rose, as if suddenly freed from the treetops, wheeled, and passed soundless, like a wreath of smoke, over the tree-tops of the higher land beyond.

    "Look!" shouted Dick, who had his nose over the gunwale of the boat. "Look at the fish!"

    "Mr Button," cried Emmeline, "where are we?"

    "Bedad, I dunno; but we might be in a worse place, I'm thinkin'," replied the old man, sweeping his eyes over the blue and tranquil lagoon, from the barrier reef to the happy shore.

    On either side of the broad beach before them the cocoa nut trees came down like two regiments, and bending gazed at their own reflections in the lagoon. Beyond lay waving chapparel, where cocoa-palms and breadfruit trees intermixed with the mammee apple and the tendrils of the wild vine. On one of the piers of coral at the break of the reef stood a single cocoa-palm; bending with a slight curve, it, too, seemed seeking its reflection in the waving water.

    But the soul of it all, the indescribable thing about this picture of mirrored palm trees, blue lagoon, coral reef and sky, was the light.

    Away at sea the light was blinding, dazzling, cruel. Away at sea it had nothing to focus itself upon, nothing to exhibit but infinite spaces of blue water and desolation.

    Here it made the air a crystal, through which the gazer saw the loveliness of the land and reef, the green of palm, the white of coral, the wheeling gulls, the blue lagoon, all sharply outlined--burning, coloured, arrogant, yet tender-heart-breakingly beautiful, for the spirit of eternal morning was here, eternal happiness, eternal youth.

    As the oarsman pulled the tiny craft towards the beach, neither he nor the children saw away behind the boat, on the water near the bending palm tree at the break in the reef, something that for a moment insulted the day, and was gone. Something like a small triangle of dark canvas, that rippled through the water and sank from sight; something that appeared and vanished like an evil thought.

    It did not take long to beach the boat. Mr. Button tumbled over the side up to his knees in water, whilst Dick crawled over the bow.

    "Catch hould of her the same as I do," cried Paddy, laying hold of the starboard gunwale; whilst Dick, imitative as a monkey, seized the gunwale to port. Now then:

    "Yeo ho, Chilliman,
    Up wid her, up wid her,
    Heave o, Chilliman.'

    "Lave her be now; she's high enough."

    He took Emmeline in his arms and carried her up on the sand. It was from just here on the sand that you could see the true beauty of the lagoon. That lake of sea-water forever protected from storm and trouble by the barrier reef of coral.

    Right from where the little clear ripples ran up the strand, it led the eye to the break in the coral reef where the palm gazed at its own reflection in the water, and there, beyond the break, one caught a vision of the great heaving, sparkling sea.

    The lagoon, just here, was perhaps more than a third of a mile broad. I have never measured it, but I. know that, standing by the palm tree on the reef, flinging up one's arm and shouting to a person on the beach, the sound took a perceptible time to cross the water: I should say, perhaps, an almost perceptible time. The distant signal and the distant call were almost coincident, yet not quite.

    Dick, mad with delight at the place in which he found himself, was running about like a dog just out of the water. Mr. Button was discharging the cargo of the dinghy on the dry, white sand. Emmeline seated herself with her precious bundle on the sand, and was watching the operations of her friend, looking at the things around her and feeling very strange.

    For all she knew all this was the ordinary accompaniment of a sea voyage. Paddy's manner throughout had been set to the one idea, not to frighten the "childer"; the weather had backed him up. But down in the heart of her lay the knowledge that all was not as it should be. The hurried departure from the ship, the fog in which her uncle had vanished, those things, and others as well, she felt instinctively were not right. But she said nothing.

    She had not long for meditation, however, for Dick was running towards her with a live crab which he had picked up, calling out that he was going to make it bite her.

    "Take it away!" cried Emmeline, holding both hands with fingers widespread in front of her face. "Mr. Button! Mr. Button! Mr. Button!"

    "Lave her be, you little divil!" roared Pat, who was depositing the last of the cargo on the sand. "Lave her be, or it's a cow-hidin' I'll be givin' you!"

    "What's a 'divil,' Paddy?" asked Dick, panting from his exertions. "Paddy, what's a 'divil'?"

    "You're wan. Ax no questions now, for it's tired I am, an' I want to rest me bones."

    He flung himself under the shade of a palm tree, took out his tinder box, tobacco and pipe, cut some tobacco up, filled his pipe and lit it. Emmeline crawled up, and sat near him, and Dick flung himself down on the sand near Emmeline.

    Mr Button took off his coat and made a pillow of it against a cocoa-nut tree stem. He had found the El Dorado of the weary. With his knowledge of the South Seas a glance at the vegetation to be seen told him that food for a regiment might be had for the taking; water, too.

    Right down the middle of the strand was a depression which in the rainy season would be the bed of a rushing rivulet. The water just now was not strong enough to come all the way to the lagoon, but away up there "beyant" in the woods lay the source, and he'd find it in due time. There was enough in the breaker for a week, and green "cucanuts" were to be had for the climbing.

    Emmeline contemplated Paddy for a while as he smoked and rested his bones, then a great thought occurred to her. She took the little shawl from around the parcel she was holding and exposed the mysterious box.

    "Oh, begorra, the box!" said Paddy, leaning on his elbow interestedly; "I might a' known you wouldn't a' forgot it."

    "Mrs James," said Emmeline, "made me promise not to open it till I got on shore, for the things in it might get lost."

    "Well, you're ashore now," said Dick; "open it."

    "I'm going to," said Emmeline.

    She carefully undid the string, refusing the assistance of Paddy's knife. Then the brown paper came off, disclosing a common cardboard box. She raised the lid half an inch, peeped in, and shut it again.

    "Over it!" cried Dick, mad with curiosity.

    "What's in it, honey?" asked the old sailor, who was as interested as Dick.

    "Things," replied Emmeline.

    Then all at once she took the lid off and disclosed a tiny tea service of china, packed in shavings; there was a teapot with a Iid, a cream jug, cups and saucers, and six microscopic plates, each painted with a pansy.

    "Sure, it's a tay-set!" said Paddy, in an interested voice." Glory be to God! will you look at the little plates wid the flowers on thim?"

    "Heugh!" said Dick in disgust; "I thought it might a' been soldiers."

    "I don't want soldiers," replied Emmeline, in a voice of perfect contentment.

    She unfolded a piece of tissue paper, and took from it a sugar-tongs and six spoons. Then she arrayed the whole lot on the sand.

    "Well, if that don't beat all!" said Paddy.

    "And whin are you goin' to ax me to tay with you?"

    "Some time," replied Emmeline, collecting the things, and carefully repacking them.

    Mr. Button finished his pipe, tapped the ashes out, and placed it in his pocket.

    "I'll be afther riggin' up a bit of a tint," said he, as he rose to his feet, "to shelter us from the jew to-night; but I'll first have a look at the woods to see if I can find wather. Lave your box with the other things, Emmeline; there's no one here to take it."

    Emmeline left her box on the heap of things that Paddy had placed in the shadow of the cocoa-nut trees, took his hand, and the three entered the grove on the right.

    It was like entering a pine forest; the tall symmetrical stems of the trees seemed set by mathematical law, each at a given distance from the other. Whichever way you entered a twilight alley set with tree boles lay before you. Looking up you saw at an immense distance above a pale green roof patined with sparkling and flashing points of light, where the breeze was busy playing with the green fronds of the trees.

    "Mr. Button," murmured Emmeline, "we won't get lost, will we?"

    "Lost! No, faith; sure we're goin' uphill, an' all we have to do is to come down again, when we want to get back--'ware nuts!" A green nut detached from up above came down rattling and tumbling and hopped on the ground. Paddy picked it up. "t's a green cucanut," said he, putting it in his pocket (it was not very much bigger than a Jaffa orange), "and we'll have it for tay."

    "That's not a cocoa-nut," said Dick; "cocoanuts are brown. I had five cents once an' I bought one, and scraped it out and y'et it."

    "When Dr. Sims made Dicky sick," said Emmeline," he said the wonder t'im was how Dicky held it all."

    "Come on," said Mr. Button, "an' don't be talkin', or it's the CIuricaunes will be after us."

    "What's cluricaunes?" demanded Dick.

    "Little men no bigger than your thumb that make the brogues for the Good People."

    "Who's they?"

    "Whisht, and don't be talkin'. Mind your head, Em'leen, or the branches'll be hittin' you in the face."

    They had left the cocoa-nut grove, and entered the chapparel. Here was a deeper twilight, and all sorts of trees lent their foliage to make the shade. The artu with its delicately diamonded trunk, the great bread-fruit tall as a beech, and shadowy as a cave, the aoa, and the eternal cocoa-nut palm all grew here like brothers. Great ropes of wild vine twined like the snake of the laocoon from tree to tree, and all sorts of wonderful flowers, from the orchid shaped like a butterfly to the scarlet hibiscus, made beautiful the gloom.

    Suddenly Mr. Button stopped.

    "Whisht!" said he.

    Through the silence--a silence filled with the hum and the murmur of wood insects and the faint, far song of the reef-came a tinkling, rippling sound: it was water. He listened to make sure of the bearing of the sound, then he made for it.

    Next moment they found themselves in a little grass grown glade. From the hilly ground above, over a rock black and polished like ebony, fell a tiny cascade not much broader than one's hand; ferns grew around and from a tree above a great rope of wild convolvulus flowers blew their trumpets in the enchanted twilight.

    The children cried out at the prettiness of it, and Emmeline ran and dabbled her hands in the water. Just above the little waterfall sprang a banana tree laden with fruit; it had immense leaves six feet long and more, and broad as a dinner-table. One could see the golden glint of the ripe fruit through the foliage.

    In a moment Mr Button had kicked off his shoes and was going up the rock like a cat, absolutely, for it seemed to give him nothing to climb by.

    "Hurroo!" cried Dick in admiration. "Look at Paddy!"

    Emmeline looked, and saw nothing but swaying leaves.

    "Stand from under!" he shouted, and next moment down came a huge bunch of yellowjacketed bananas. Dick shouted with delight, but Emmeline showed no excitement: she had discovered something.


PREVIOUS  UP  NEXT